If you’re any kind of writer, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “show don’t tell.” It basically means, don’t tell readers what happened, or why it matters, or how the characters feel about it. You need to demonstrate those things with good writing, and by letting the scene and action and characters show readers what’s happening directly, without you getting in the way.
Today I realized the same rule applies to all kind of business, including building your author platform and marketing your books.
Most authors are trying really hard to sell their books. They are telling people how great it is, with a description and teaser texts. They are telling readers about all the awards it won and all the reviews it has.
They are trying to convince readers to take a chance on their books.
That’s all selling.
But readers don’t like to be sold to.
For the last couple of years I’ve been trying to build traction on www.diybookcovers.com. I wanted to make it easy for authors to make their own covers, and the resources I’ve been making are helpful. But I needed to decide, how much do I give away for free? What do I charge for? When do they need to sign up to get the content? What do I do with their emails?
I’m still doing a lot of things wrong, but today I had the realization that will power my decisions for the next few years, and the realization is the same thing I’ve been telling authors. Show, don’t tell.
I thought I needed a better sales page, so I built this huge and beautiful page full of testimonials, and extra offers and bonuses, and special deals and lists of benefits, and lots of nice pretty pictures.
Even though I get a lot of traffic, that sales page wasn’t working so well, and worse, a lot of people left before they could get to all the free tools and templates I made.
So I’m revising everything, based on a formula I’ve see being used successfully many times, which is this:
1. Get the email signup first by making an amazing offer.
2. Give them lots of free, valuable content. Usually this is a series of training videos and some free downloads.
3. After you’ve given them all the cool stuff and they can see for themselves that they like it and it’s useful, then you can offer them a paid product (in my case, more cover templates).
The reason it works is that people don’t want to be told how cool something is. They want to decide for themselves. On Amazon, that’s why your sales page, cover and reviews will only go so far – then they’ll “look inside” and read a few paragraphs to see if they like your writing.
Amazon knows enough about purchasing decisions to make that free preview mandatory. Nobody wants to be shut out behind a paywall, and have to buy a product before they’ve tested it.
“taster texts” & “nibble novels”
But even on Amazon, a lot of readers won’t take a risk on a 2.99 or even 99 cent book. There are too many of them.
And on your own author website, they aren’t going to sign up to your list or buy your book unless you have some sample content.
The main thing you need to do, as a writer, is get people into your story as quickly as possible. Don’t make it hard to find. Interrupt your blog posts with exciting paragraphs from your books. Quote yourself.
Make a big “Excerpts” page where you add a few chapters. Do that for every book. At the end of the excerpt, add a link that says “Want more? Go buy the full book here to keep reading!”
The big problem authors face is that, if you don’t have a beautiful cover that makes people interested in your story, they aren’t going to want to even read the free preview. You can avoid that if you have a nicely built website and don’t add your cover – then the text can stand on its own, and if you’re a great writer, readers can “see” that.
You can show them the writing, without telling them what a good writer you are.
But it’s tricky on Amazon, because you will have a book cover, and readers won’t decide whether or not they want to get a taste of your writing unless the cover is good enough. It’s unfortunate, but it’s 100% true: if the cover is unnappealing, doesn’t catch their attention, or worse looks unprofessional and amateurish, readers will assume your writing sucks.
They’ll make that decision in under one second. Getting your cover right is the single most crucial thing you need to do if you want to be successful. Of course, the cover matters less and less depending on your author platform: If you have a big list, if you get traffic to your blog, if you can get all your friends to leave reviews, you can overcome a bad cover with effort, and once readers do get into your story, and love it, you can be successful despite an ugly cover (but it’s more work and effort – why risk it?)
Luckily, there’s another way: Publish a lot of short ministories and books, everywhere. Brainstorming with a friend, we’re calling these “taster texts” & “nibble novels” Don’t worry about giving away your books and novels for free. Instead, write some short stories or mini-ebooks, between 10,000 and 20,000 words. You can write that much in a week.
Write books that appeal to your target readers (in the same genres or subjects). Put those out on Smashwords or Draft2Digital. Put them on your website. Put them on Wattpad. Record a video of you reading a few pages of one, then put that on YouTube with a link back to the full text.
This is your “showing”. You are proving to the world you can write, but writing shorter, quicker books that you can give away for free. Put that content everywhere, and add links to get them back to your site.
Then make an optin-offer: give them 3 more books.
If you wrote a short story, or several stories, tell them to vote on which they like and you’ll write a full book for that one next (you can have them “vote” by reviewing on Amazon). Make it fun. You can giveaway things you haven’t finished yet, like “Did you like this free short story? Go sign up on my list and I’ll give you the next 3 short stories I write for free when they’re done.”
You only need one, right now, to get started, but write a bunch.
Shorts are easy because you can focus on scenes and characters and writing without needing to deliver a full, satisfying novel or non-fiction book. Just a little taster text. A bite-sized, nibble novel. (A novella is around 30K to 50K… these can be much shorter).
Don’t worry about making them perfect. What can you write quickly and get out into the world for readers to find it?
Work on that first. Repeat a few times. Set up your author platform as a massive funnel that detours readers and gets them back into your email list (that’s where the power is).
Jenna Soard and I are giving a free Webinar in a few days (Tuesday, the 29th) where we’ll be talking about all this stuff in detail. I’ll add the link here soon but sign up on my list so you don’t miss it.
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.
I can’t wait!! I’m excited for the webinar and I love these tips. I’ll use NaNoWriMo to make short stories :).
I love the idea of taster texts and nibble novels. I have so many stories that I don’t know what to do with. At the same time, I’m editing my novel Feeding Frenzy so I can take it from Wattpad to the next level as a published novel (since it won a Watty award I know readers are already enjoying it, but only on Wattpad). The answer is your suggestion – give my short stories away to my email subscribers. Why didn’t I start doing this years ago? Thank you for the wonderful ideas!
Derek, this is one of many great posts from you. I’ve been reading blog posts and listening to podcasts you’ve been on, and I must say you are quickly becoming one of the best sources of info about marketing and indie publishing in general. Love all of your experiments, and plan on implementing many of them. Keep up the good work!